With Ramadan coming to an end soon, the subject of fasting is again doing the annual rounds in the press. Jeanette Winterson published an article in the Guardian about her experiences with fasting, why I fasted for 11 days. The article starts with some historical background to fasting, something that humans have been doing for thousands of years across almost all cultures and religions. The health benefits of fasting are well documented, in particular its link to longevity. Indeed, the worlds oldest marathon runner Fauja Singh, aged 104, credits his longevity to low carbs and fasting. In general I agree with just about everything Ms Winterson has to say about fasting except on one major point, namely the way she went about it.
Although she does not state it explicitly, it seems clear to me from her elevated cholestorol levels and the fact that she had to go “through the wall” to get into ketosis that she was on a high-carb diet when she started her fast. i.e. not keto-adapted. Despite her claims to the contrary, this very much is “starvation ketosis”, or simply starving yourself to get into ketosis. Not one single LCHF practitioner I know of recommends this approach. Why? For the simple reason that if you do it this way, you starve your brain of fuel for a brief period of time as you break through “the wall” of converting from burning carbs to burning fat. This is exactly the same phenomenon that marathon runners who are not fully keto-adapted experience as their blood glucose runs out towards the end of a race: huge mood swings, a complete loss of awareness and eventual collapse as the brain literally starts to shut down. I can state from personal experience when I ran a half-marathon in the days before LCHF, that this is an experience I never again wish to repeat!
So now let’s consider the fully keto-adapted, LCHF individual who also decides to start fasting. For a start, there’s no going “through the wall” for them, since by definition they’re already there i.e. they are already burning fat. Further, they got there without the dramatic experience of having to go through the wall in the first place, simply by lowering carb and raising fat intake. Hence, for this individual, the fasting journey is an altogether less dramatic affair. In practice it means they are just going from simple nutritional ketosis into deep ketosis.
Hence, it is at this point that both the high carb individual and the LCHF individual are in deep ketosis, the former having done it the hard way, the latter the easy way. For both individuals however, toxins stored around the body, in particular the liver, also start to get used up for energy. It truly is a detox for the body leading to further weight loss and reductions in inflammation. The benefits for both are probably very similar, regardless of how they got there. So far so good, but now let’s consider what happens when both individuals break their fasts. For the high carb individual, levels of inflammation slowly return to their previous high levels, cholesterol levels start to increase again, they regain all the weight that they lost, toxins start to build up and, eventually, things return to exactly more or less where they were before the fast, completely undoing all that good work. In short, over the longer term there has been no benefit at all! Contrast this with the LCHF individual whose levels of inflammation return to low from ultra low. Any weight and toxin gains are minimal and cholesterol levels remain within acceptable bounds. Hence they retain the benefits of fasting rather than eventually losing them completely, as is the case with the high-carb individual.
As for Ms Winterson, 3 months after her fast she claims that her cholesterol levels are still ok. She does not state whether or not she made any dietary changes post fast e.g. going LCHF, so one must assume she will be returning to her old diet and hence her old, elevated cholesterol levels and the threat of statins. Her whole fasting experience would have been altogether more congenial and beneficial in the long run if she had started LCHF first, became fully ketogenic, started her fast and then returned to LCHF.
Have you tried fasting on LCHF or otherwise? Did you see any benefits? Let us now!